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‘U.S. Marshals’ closing in on Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. is in final negotiations for a starring role in “U.S. Marshals,” the spinoff of “The Fugitive,” which Stuart Baird will direct at Warner Bros., sources said. After a meeting in Chicago last weekend with Baird, Downey is poised to join Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley Snipes in the actioner.

Aside from landing a strong role in a high-profile Arnold Kopelson-produced film, Downey’s hiring should help ease concerns about his insurability. Following a court-ordered rehab, Downey has been sober nine months and has done several films — most recently the Robert Altman-directed “The Gingerbread Man” — and set up a first-look deal at Island Pictures. But studios have different requirements than indies. The majors faced a near seven-figure insurance premium because of the terms of Downey’s probation. Since a relapse mandated immediate jail time, the ramifications for a studio pic were formidable. That problem was eliminated late last month when a judge relaxed the terms of Downey’s probation. He’d still face jail time for a probation violation — but only after completion of any film on which he’s working at the time. WB was obviously satisfied, since Downey will be shouldering a 17-week work schedule on “Marshals.” He’s repped by ICM’s Nick Styne.

NORTON OFFERED “JURY” DUTY: Already being pursued for lead roles in the Ridley Scott-directed “RKO 281” and David Fincher-directed “The Fight Club” at Fox 2000, Edward Norton has been asked by director Joel Schumacher to be the star of “The Runaway Jury.” That pic will be the “Batman & Robin” director’s next film, his third adaptation of a John Grisham bestseller. WB paid a record $8 million to buy him the book to direct. Norton’s been offered the main role of a jurist who manipulates his peers to vote his way in a precedent-setting tobacco liability trial. This is heady stuff for a guy who debuted just over a year ago, when he made an Oscar-nominated bow in “Primal Fear,” followed by prominent roles in “People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Everyone Says I Love You.”

Due to family and scheduling problems, Norton recently turned down an offer by Terrence Malick to lead “The Thin Red Line” and Clint Eastwood’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” But sources said he’s hoping to say yes to Schumacher, Scott and Fincher if scheduling can be worked out. “RKO 281,” the pic about the battle between Orson Welles (Norton) and William Randolph Hearst (Marlon Brando) over “Citizen Kane,” is still without a home. Scott Free Prods. is in heavy talks with Sony, with a second studio just entering the fray. Norton’s repped by ICM and managed by Banner Entertainment.

MEL MULLS: While Mel Gibson’s cooking at high temperature with scribe Terry Hayes to make the Warner Bros.-based “Fahrenheit 451” his first directing/starring assignment since the Oscar-winning “Braveheart,” he’s being wooed to squeeze in a starring gig in another picture first. Gibson has a co-production deal with WB and Paramount, and the latter studio’s after him to play the title role in “Pathfinder,” the George Nolfi drama.

He’d play a master spy who inadvertently gives up secrets to a cellmate during a long imprisonment. His roomie also turns out to be a spy, who gets out and begins killing other members of his brigade. The hero must then track him down and kill him. At the same time, TriStar’s lobbying him to do “Endurance,” a drama about a 1912 expedition to Antarctica, scripted by Jeff Maguire and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the duo behind “In the Line of Fire.” Stay tuned.

MAMET MOBILIZES: Fresh from scripting the political satire “Wag the Dog,” David Mamet has turned his pen toward Hollywood. He’s scripted and will direct “State and Maine,” which producer Sara Green’s in the process of setting up. It’s about what happens when a movie goes on location in a small town. For a film that requires a budget in the $10 million range, he’s assembled a stellar cast. Mamet has Oscar-nominated “Fargo” star William H. Macy, Chevy Chase, Charles Durning, Hank Azaria, Patti LuPone and Rebecca Pigeon locked. He and producer Green are in final talks with Whoopi Goldberg to come aboard in a lead role. Mamet recently directed “The Spanish Prisoner,” starring Steve Martin.

SILVERMAN FROM SINGLE TO COUPLE: Just when it looked as if Jonathan Silverman would be out of a job as NBC called a halt to “The Single Guy,” he’s landed the role of Oscar Madison’s son in Paramount’s sequel to “The Odd Couple.” Silverman said it’s his fourth adaptation of a Neil Simon play — “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Broadway Bound” and “London Suite” are the others — and he’s done three Simon plays. “I’m Oscar’s son and I’m betrothed to Felix’s daughter,” said Silverman. “It’s a treat, since I’m playing Walter Matthau’s son, and I also played Jack Lemmon’s son in HBO’s ‘For Richer, for Poorer.’ ”

On the series front, Silverman’s not optimistic about the show’s chances to make NBC’s fall sked. “I’m resigned to seeing it go away, but you never know,” he said. “There are rumors another network might pick it up, and producers are pounding on my agent’s and manager’s door to develop a new one.”

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